Tag Archives: outlandish prediction

Draft OP: Stafford or Sanchez?

 One of the biggest questions going into this draft is which quarterback you would rather have: Matthew Stafford of Georgia or Mark Sanchez of USC? History says that quarterbacks at the top of the draft are a 50-50 proposition. Bet right (a la Peyton Manning), and a team will have its franchise quarterback. Bet wrong (a la Ryan Leaf), and you set your franchise back 3-5 years.

 So is it Stafford or Sanchez this year? I smell an outlanidish prediction coming… but after some thoughts.

*Stafford is the more physically gifted quarterback. He has an unbelievable arm and ideal height. Sanchez has a good but not great arm and is a little more mobile. Advantage here goes to Stafford.
*Stafford started two and a half years and got better each year. (2006: 52.7 completion percentage, 7 TD, 13 INT; 2007: 55.7 completion percentage, 19 TD, 10 INT; 2008: 61.4 completion percentage, 25 TD, 10 INT) Sanchez started one year and had a monster year (65.8 completion percentage, 34 TD, 10 INT). So Stafford has an experience advantage, while Sanchez has a minor statistical advantage.
*Stafford played in the SEC, while Sanchez played in the Pac-10. So while Sanchez didn’t play against stiffs, Stafford faced more athletic defenses that are more pro ready. That’s another experience advantge to Stafford.
*ESPN wrote about a stat analysis that says Sanchez is the far better bet. Basically, this complicated formula compared Sanchez to Ben Roethlisberger and Chad Pennington and compared Stafford to Cade McNown and Joey Harrington. (The link is worth a click.)
*When it comes to charisma and leadership, Sanchez seems to ooze locker-room prowess. Stafford isn’t as dynamic, but his declaration that he wants to go to Detroit and turn things around counts for something.

With all that said, my pick would be…

Sanchez.

Stafford could end up being a good quarterback, but for some reason I get the feeling that Sanchez will end up with the better pro career. In my mind, he’s more likely to win a Super Bowl and less likely to bust out. I know that banking on a quarterback with only one year of starting experience is a white-knuckle chance to take, but that’s the feeling I can’t shake.

I may be right, and I may be wrong. (Hey, 11 years ago I preferred Leaf to Manning on draft day. This is an inexact science.) But the outlandish prediction is that Sanchez will be a better pro than Stafford.

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Peppers part 2

OK, I was unfortunately a little imprecise in my outlandish predictions on Julius Peppers earlier this week. In predicting trades, I ignored the Patriots, who have been widely rumored to be interested. The thought had actually crossed my mind (I hear you now: yeah, right), but because I was trying to identify potential players in a trade, I omitted the Patriots.

The Pats do have the ammo to get Peppers, with a first-round pick and three second-rounders. The rumor out there is the No. 34 overall pick that the Pats got from K.C. in the Matt Cassel trade. My thought is that the Panthers would need to get at least two of those picks, including one of the two highest, for a deal to be worth it. But that wouldn’t be a bad return for Peppers

For the record, here are other 3-4 teams that I failed to mention in the earlier post: 49ers, Jets, Browns, Chargers, Ravens, Steelers, Chiefs, Dolphins. It’s hard to see resolution for the Peppers situation in any of those spots, but now you know.

Leave a comment with any ideas you might have  with one of these teams, or anyone else.

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OP: Whither Julius Peppers?

As a Panthers follower (OK, probably fan), I’ve been thinking about what the Panthers can do to solve the stalemate with franchise free agent Julius Peppers. The defensive end wants out of Carolina, preferring to go to a team that plays a 3-4 defense. But the Panthers want to keep him and so used a franchise tag that guarantees Peppers a one-year deal worth more than $16.6 million in ’09. That tag has clogged the Panthers’ cap so much that Carolina had less than $25,000 under the cap before cutting CB Ken Lucas last week. They still barely have enough to sign draft picks, and they won’t be able to address any other team issues (quarterback, wide receiver, defensive line depth among them) until they do something with Peppers.

What are their options? And what prediction (however outlandish) do we make? Read on.

1. Keep him – This is the Panthers’ preference, but Peppers isn’t amenable at all. Unless some sort of major deal is worked out (and that appears unlikely), it seems the only way this happens is if the Panthers wait Peppers out until about the beginning of training camp. At that point, Peppers wouldn’t really have any options in free agency, and his only way to play in ’09 would be with Carolina. A holdout would be likely, but eventually Peppers would take the $16-plus million and play the year. The problem with this scenario is that the Panthers would be in salary-cap purgatory all the way through the offseason, which would inhibit the team’s ability to improve elsewhere. This is not an appealing option, although the Panthers might be stubborn enough to try it.

2. Let someone else sign him – Peppers isn’t an “exclusive” franchise player, which means another team could sign him. But a team would have to give up two first-round picks to sign Peppers. That would give the Panthers an out, but it’s unlikely. Most of the time, when a franchise player changes teams, it’s because teams work out compensation. (That’s what happened with Matt Cassel this offseason, for example.) I’d cast this as unlikely as well.

3. That leaves one option: Trade him – Peppers wants out, and there is reportedly a list of 3-4 teams that he wants to be traded to. (The only details we’ve gotten are Dallas, two other NFC teams, and an AFC team.) So what trades are possible? Let’s delve into four theoretical/hypothetical options to see if they make sense. (Note: These are my ideas, based on analysis but not on reporting, inside info, or even rumors.)

Peppers to Dallas for Greg Ellis and picks – Dallas, the one named team, doesn’t make sense because the Cowboys have DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer in the outside ‘backer spot that Peppers would fill.  Dallas is trying to re-sign Ware to a multi-year deal, and it would be hard to imagine the Cowboys giving big bucks to both Ware and Peppers despite Jerry Jones’ penchant for collecting big names. If a deal were to happen, the Cowboys would probably want to trade Greg Ellis, who has played down lineman and has a decent-sized salary. Ellis is a North Carolina product (like Peppers), so a move to Carolina would probably be OK with him. But the Panthers would have to get more than Ellis, because a 33-year-old defensive lineman doesn’t have a long shelf life. The Panthers might even prefer Anthony Spencer, a former first-round pick who hasn’t yet panned out. Either way, Dallas would have to include some draft picks, but they don’t have a first or a third this year because of the Roy Williams trade. This deal seems very unlikely.

Peppers to Green Bay for Aaron Kampman and picks – The Packers are one of 4 teams moving to the 3-4 defense as their primary defense for next season. (You’ll see two more of those teams below.) The Packers have some players who fit the scheme perfectly (DE Cullen Jenkins, ILB A.J. Hawk), but one who doesn’t seem to is DE Aaron Kampman. Kampman’s dimensions remind you of Shawne Merriman and DeMarcus Ware, but does he have the same athleticism? It might make sense for Green Bay to trade for Peppers to fill that marquee slot. That would be a big departure for the Packers in terms of organizational philosophy, but it could work. Kampman, who had 9 1/2 sacks and has 37 over the past 3 years,  would be an acceptable replacement for Peppers in Carolina. He’s a very good defensive end (almost Pro Bowl level at his best) and would soften the sting of Peppers’ loss a little bit. Kampman plus a second-round pick wouldn’t be a terrible haul for the Panthers in exchange for Peppers. It wouldn’t be equal value, but it would be 80 cents on the dollar, which is probably all the Panthers can hope for given the leverage Peppers has via the salary-cap situation. This move would make sense for Carolina if Green Bay wanted to do it.

Peppers to Denver for QB Jay Cutler – And now the wild-goose chase of ideas really starts to get far afield. The Broncos and Cutler are in a disagreement that is quickly turning into an all-out war. It appears now that trading Cutler, which would have been unimaginable at the end of the season, is now at least a 50-50 proposition. Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels has said he’s not trading Cutler only for draft picks. But would they trade him for Peppers? Like Green Bay, Denver is moving to a 3-4 defense this offseason. But the Broncos don’t really have dynamic pieces in their front seven. So Peppers would definitely fit in. This would also be a fair value trade. Cutler would allow the Panthers to say goodbye to Jake Delhomme and start a new quarterback era that’s coming in 2010 if it doesn’t happen this offseason. Delhomme is a loved Panther, but his abominable performance in the playoffs last year likely portends the end of his tenure in Carolina. If the Panthers could get Cutler, the pain of losing Peppers would at least be worth it because it meant a major step forward elsewhere.

Peppers to Arizona for WR Anquan Boldin – This is wild-goose chase part deux. Arizona is another team moving to a 3-4 defense this year, at the behest of head coach Ken Whisenhunt, who is trying to get back to his Pittsburgh roots. But there’s not a clear outside pass rusher on the Cardinals’ roster, especially after Antonio Smith departed via free agency. Enter Peppers. He would add a pass-rush capability the Cards haven’t had in years and make that defense better. Peppers, DT Darnell Dockett, LB Karlos Dansby, and CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie would be four pretty good building blocks for any D. So who would the Cardinals give up in return? Bolding makes the most sense. He’s never going to be happy as the second banana in Arizona because of the contract situations he and Larry Fitzgerald have. While a move to Carolina would mean again teaming with a high-profile receiver, the Panthers are probably better able to match Boldin’s salary to Steve Smith’s. Boldin would be the complement to Smith the Panthers have been looking for, for a long time. The move would make both teams better, at least in the short run.

So in summary, what is our outlandish prediction? The trade that’s most likely to happen is the Green Bay move for Aaron Kampman. While that doesn’t sound sexy at all, it would address the issues the Panthers have and allow Peppers the defensive system he wants. It’s a move the Panthers wouldn’t want to make, but it appears more and more that it’s a move they’ll have to make. Patience is a virtue, but patience alone isn’t going to bail the Panthers out of this situation.

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OP: Super Bowl pick

OK, it’s time to make a Super Bowl pick. So far, we’re 7-3 in the playoffs against the spread and 6-4 straight up. (Some of those picks precede the blog, but trust me, we have documentation.)

This is a tricky game to pick, because the Cardinals are harder to judge than any team in the Super Bowl in recent memory. Are they like the Giants of ’07 – a team with talent that didn’t play at top level for the first three-quarters of the season but then got hot at the right time? Or are they a “fluke” Super Bowl team like the 1979 Rams or the 1986 Patriots that’s going to get thumped in the biggest game of all?

There’s no doubt that Arizona has talent. If all that talent plays well, they will be in this game. But what are the chances of that? It’s happened just once in the playoffs (against Carolina). In the other two playoff games, Arizona got somewhat uneven performances from the offense and defense but had enough offense to win?

Warner should have a big game, and Larry Fitzgerald just won’t be stopped. Those two predictions aren’t outlandish at all. If those two things are set, then it should be set for the Cardinals to score at least 17 points.

So then the question is what the Steelers can do offensively. This team is not a huge points producer anyway, so when we think the Cardinals will score 17 or more, we face a dilemma. The Steelers can score 20 or 21 and win. But can they cover a touchdown spread?

That’s why my first inclination is to pick the Steelers to win by 3 or 4 points. But the trend says that we shouldn’t pick a team to cover the spread unless we think they’ll win outright. In the playoffs, the favorites that won covered the spread, and the underdogs who covered the spread also won the game (including the Cardinals three times).

With all that in mind, here’s an extremely detailed outlandish prediction of what’s going to happen…

Steelers go up early by getting one long drive and one big passing play to Santonio Holmes. Meanwhile, the Steelers hold the Cardinals to field goals on two early drives. That’ll make it 14-6 in the second quarter.

An exchange of touchdowns (Arizona’s by Fitzgerald) makes it 21-13 in the middle of the third quarter. Then Arizona scores again and goes for 2 but fails, and it’s 21-19 in the mid-fourth quarter.

But Pittsburgh and Ben Roethlisberger, who has been so much better late in games this season then he has in the first 3 1/2 quarters, put together a long, clock-killing drive that ends up in a short running touchdown to make it 28-19 with less than three minutes left.

Arizona starts flinging the ball around in a mad dash to get back, but there’s a turnover, and we have our final score…

Pittsburgh 28, Arizona 19.

Feel free to post your own predictions as comments.

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OP: NFC championship game

Time to bust out my favorite stat (or at least it was my favorite till last year): At least 1 road team had won a conference championship game in all but one season since 1996.  The road warriors:

2007: Giants won@ Green Bay 23-20
2006:  home teams (Indy and Chicago) both won
2005: Pittsburgh won @ Denver 34-17
2004: New England won @ Pittsburgh 41-27
2003: Carolina won @ Philadelphia 14-3
2002: Tampa Bay won @ Philadelphia 27-10
2001: New England won @ Pittsburgh 24-17
2000: Baltimore won @ Oakland 16-3
1999: Tennessee won @ Jacksonville 33-14
1998: Atlanta won @ Minnesota 30-27
1997: Denver won @ Pittsburgh 24-21

This trend was a change – in the four seasons previous to this run, only 1 team won a road championship game (only four in the seven seasons previous). But it’s been happening long enough that it’s a trend worth noticing.

We charted Pittsburgh’s history in this trend (1 road win, 3 home losses) yesterday. Philadelphia is the only other team with 2 home losses in this stretch. (The Eagles also lost a championship game at St. Louis and beat Atlanta at home.) So the question is whether this year for the Eagles is like ’05 for the Steelers – a year when a contending team wasn’t really expected to make a run, but got it together and won it all.

Meanwhile, Arizona has no NFC championship game history. The Cardinals are 3 team names (go back past Arizona and Phoenix and St. Louis to Chicago) from their only title, in 1949. The one trend to consider here is Arizona’s 2008 home record, which was 6-2 (losses to Giants and Vikings).

So since we’ve outlandishly predicted the Steelers to win, we have to go against 1 of 2 trends — the championship game history, or the Cardinals strong home record. Which trend should we buck?

Here’s what’s swinging my vote. Arizona’s defense, which was up and down a lot of the season, has been a beast so far in the playoffs. The talented players on that unit – S Adrian Wilson, LB Karlos Dansby, DT Darnell Dockett – are all clicking at the same time, and rookie CB Dominique Rogers-Cromartie has come on like gangbusters. The D has forced 9 turnovers in 2 games, and if the Cards force three more this week, they’ll win.

Philadelphia has been good but not great so far in the playoffs. Donovan McNabb has played well, but he just doesn’t have enough weapons right now. The receivers are pedestrian, and so the big plays have to come from RBs Brian Westbrook and Correll Buckhalter (who has quietly had some game-changers during the Eagles’ recent run of success). You can count on a couple of big plays from these guys in the game…

…but…

I don’t think the Eagles can score enough to keep up with the Cardinals, especially if Arizona snuffs out a drive or two or three by forcing turnovers. We can count on the Cardinals to score some too. So imagine another 100-yard game from Larry Fitzgerald, another playoff pick by DRC, and another historic Cardinals victory.

The outlandish prediction: Arizona 31, Philadelphia 23

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OP: AFC championship game

First, a description. From time to time, we’ll make an outlandish prediction on this site. And since it is our duty, we will also make predictions on big games – outlandish predictions or not. All will fall under this tag.

Next, a history lesson: In the Bill Cowher era, the Steelers were 2-4 in AFC championship games. All but one of those games were at home (1-4 in those games). Pittsburgh is 0-1 in AFC title games at Heinz Field.

1 more history lesson: The Steelers swept the Ravens this season, winning 23-20 in OT in Pittsburgh (week 4) and 13-9 in Baltimore (week 15).

The Steelers are the most complete team left in the playoffs, especially with Willie Parker finally healthy. He’s a key in this game. Although Parker’s history against Baltimore is spotty, Fast Willie has enough speed to plague the Ravens if he can make it through the game. (Chris Johnson exposed this minor flaw in the Baltimore D last week.)

Baltimore has little explosiveness on offense, which isn’t new. But in the Ravens won the Super Bowl in 2000, they didn’t need a ton of explosiveness. The recipe, at least in the AFC playoffs, was great defense, effective running from Jamal Lewis, and 1 big passing play from Trent Dilfer. That’s the recipe Baltimore used last week. Rookie QB Joe Flacco made just one big play, but that 48-yard TD to Derrick Mason was all the offense needed to do. The defense did the rest, forcing three plus-territory turnovers to keep the Titans to just 10 points. In other words, the recipe for victory worked perfectly.

The questions are whether the Ravens can hold the Steelers down enough (13, 14, or 17 points). And if they can do that, can Flacco make the one big play for to get the Ravens close enough on the scoreboard for the running game and defense to get the win.

The outlandish prediction is part 1, yes. Parker gets one long run (30-plus yards) leading to a touchdown, and the Steelers end up with 17 points. But part 2, no. Flacco has at least 2 turnovers and no TDs.

That all adds up to this outlandish prediction: Pittsburgh 17, Baltimore 10.

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